Premier League Opening Weekend: Review

New season, new players, new rules, but same old exciting football. The opening weekend of the Premier League lived up to its billing, with its fair share of drama and excitement reminding us all why it is the very best in the world.

With all the teams having played their opening fixture, here’s a recap of all the talking points from each game.

Hull City vs Leicester City

Score: 2-1

Undoubtedly the biggest upset of the weekend. Having been touted as outright favorites to win this clash with a convincing scoreline, it was the newly promoted Tigers, who are currently without a manager, void of a fit squad and relegation favorites that got away with all three points.

Hull took the lead when Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez combined acrobatically, with Diomande awarded the goal. Probably the first time I’ve seen an overhead assist in the Premier League. Riyad Mahrez pulled the Foxes level with an early second half penalty but it wasn’t enough in the end as Robert Snodgrass earned the Tigers victory after a cross was not cleared.

Leicester set an unwanted record, becoming the first reigning champions to start the season with a loss since 1989. It wasn’t the characteristic fast football coupled with a solid defense that was the hallmark of their unprecedented success last season. The squad seems to be unbalanced, most notably with the loss of N’golo Kanté and Andy King lacking the energy and positional awareness of the France international. It’s still early days however, and Ranieri still has time to work with his squad before facing Arsenal this Saturday at home.


Burnley vs Swansea City

Score: 0-1

Francesco Guidolin got off to a great start in first game in charge of the Swans, edging out newly promoted Burnley in a closely fought encounter. New signing Leroy Fer got the late winner after Tom Heaton was unable to hold on to Fernando Llorente’s header to give Swansea all three points. It was the Clarets’ first league defeat since 26 December 2015, when they were in the Championship.

Swansea fans were delighted to see their new target man Llorente get of to a decent start, often proving to be a threat in front of goal. The 31-year-old did not look out of place and could prove to be a threat once he links up with fellow striker and club record £15m signing Borja Baston, who was not involved for this outing.

Burnley created chances against Swansea, but a lack of clinical finishing may force manager Sean Dyche to plunge into the transfer market again before the window shuts. Striker Andy Gray, who was the 2015/16 Championship’s Player of the Year, had an awfully quiet debutin the league as he was unable to trouble Fabianski consistently.

Burnley’s next outing is away at Liverpool while Swansea host Hull, both taking place on Saturday at the same time.


Crystal Palace vs West Brom

Score 0-1

Salomon Rondon scored the only goal of the game as his 74th minute header gave West Brom a narrow win over the Eagles in a largely drab opener at Selhurst Park. With both sides managing only six Premier League wins between them in 2016 – two for Palace and four for West Brom, it was hardly going to be a thriller.

New Crystal Palace signing Andros Townsend was unable to inspire the Eagles, but certainly can’t be faulted for his effort. The 25-year-old was full of running on his debut, and regularly came in off the wing for shooting opportunities. With Yannick Bolassie having signed for Everton, the direct running and trickery of Townsend might prove to be instrumental, provided he finds his scoring boots.

A 1-0 scoreline is one we’ve come to associate Tony Pulis and his West Brom side with. After all, seven of West Brom’s 10 Premier League wins last season finished 1-0 and so no fan could be utterly disappointed  with that. However, with rumors that exciting prospect Sadio Berahino could be on his way to Stoke, Pulis’ might have to find another strike partner for Rondon before the end of the transfer window. He did reassure the fans by stating that “He won’t be leaving unless we bring someone in,”.

West Brom host Everton, while Palace go to Tottenham next Saturday.


Everton vs Tottenham

Score: 1-1

These two teams shared the spoils at Goodison Park on Saturday, with Everton impressing in their first league game under Ronald Koeman. Ross Barkeley opened the scoring with a deceptively accurate freekick that foold Hugo Lloris in the 5th minute. Argentine winger Erik Lamela then leveled the score early in the second half, meeting Kyle Walker’s cross with an accurate header.

With that kind of performance from a Toffees’ side that Koeman claimed to be “only 70% fit” one can only shudder to think how devastating they’ll be at 100%. Their high pressing unsettled Spurs for a majority of the game, forcing many errors and turnovers as a result. This style of football, seen under the Dutchman when he was at Southampton, has quickly been incorporated at his new club. Gerard Deulofeu, filling in for the injured Romelu Lukaku, performed particularly well, often pressing the Spurs center-backs when out of possession.

For Spurs, the major talking point must be the injury to their star goalkeeper, Hugo Lloris. The Spurs keeper came off in the 35th minute with a hamstring injury, but Michel Vorm deputized well for the remainder of the game. Harry Kane also had a game to forget, looking still exhausted from his summer exploits at the Euros.It was a similar story for attacking midfielders Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen, who at least managed a shot on goal in the first half. New signing Vincent Janssen sparked some life into the side however, with Spur’s equalizer coming in just four minutes after his introduction.

Both teams will accept that a score draw was the most likeliest outcome, and push forward with their campaign as I’m sure they’ll only progress from here.

Everton are away at West Brom next Saturday and Spurs host Crystal Palace at the same time.


Middlesbrough vs Stoke City

Score: 1-1

Boro were denied full marks on their return to the top flight via a deftly executed Xherdan Shaqiri free kick deep in the second half. Boro’s new marksman Alvaro Negredo, on loan from Valencia, combined with fellow new signing Gaston Ramirez to open the scoring in the 11th minute with his first shot on goal; similar to his debut at Manchester City. It was a solid display by Middlesbrough and many agree that they deserved to win this match.

Ramirez particularly impressed and continued his fine form from last season. The Uruguayan produced some lovely touches, linked up with Negredo well, and had his low driven shot found the inside rather than the outside of the post. An exciting signing that FPL managers should consider as a budget midfielder.

Stoke really didn’t deserve anything from this fixture, a statement reinforced by the fact that they scored with their only shot on goal. They looked sluggish and struggled to control proceedings in the midfield and the left flank in particular, where Boro left back George Friend had a field day.

If Middlesbrough can maintain the same level of play that saw them concede only eight goals at home all season, then there’s nothing that will stop them from surviving the drop at the end of the season.

Middlesbrough travel to Sunderland on Sunday afternoon while The Potters host Manchester City on Saturday.


Southampton vs Watford

Score: 1-1

It was a sub-par performance from the Saints that saw them share the points with Watford. Etienne Capoue opened the scoring with a well rifled shot in the ninth minute. New Saint Nathan Redmond leveled the score in the 58th minute from a Dusan Tadic corner. It will be Claude Puel’s men with plenty to ponder after this game, as his side looked labored and lacked cutting edge after falling behind until Redmond’s equalizer.

With a busy Europa League schedule coming up, Puel needs to find a balance that offers an attacking threat while keeping things tight at the back. The team’s transition phases don’t look clear cut, leading to rather pragmatic football especially while in possession (which they had plenty of). It wasn’t all doom and gloom however, as former Bayern Munich midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg provided promise with his surging runs after coming on as a substitute. Dusan Tadic also put in a commendable performance.

On the other hand, Watford seemed the brighter side, putting on a good performance in Walter Mazzarri’s first competitive game in charge. Aside from their attack which could do with some work (they only had one shot on target), the rest of the team looked quite solid, an in particular goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. He was kept busy by a lively Dusan Tadic but responded with an impressive performance. Craig Cathcart and Sebastian Prodl were both solid at the back, particularly after Watson’s dismissal left them seriously under pressure.

Even though the Saints didn’t play well, a loss would’ve been a harsh result. The draw was most fitting.

Southampton’s next game is against Manchester United at Old Trafford next Friday while Watford face Chelsea the following day.


Manchester City vs Sunderland

Score: 2-1

Pep Guardiola’s men were spared blushes by a Paddy McNair own goal that saw them register a rather unconvincing victory against a resolute Sunderland side. Sergio Agüero opened the scoring with a well dispatched penalty after Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box. Jermain Defoe struck late in the second half and almost caused an upset before Paddy McNair, headed into his own net in the 87th minute.

While they got all the points as was expected, it was hardly the instant revolution that City fans might have hoped for. It was a performance that lacked creative spark, despite dominating possession against a side that only avoided relegation in their penultimate game last season. It is worthy to note however that Guardiola was without some of the old guards as well as new signings, including Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri, Nicolas Otamendi, Leroy Sane,  Ilkay Gundogan. It was clear that John Stones needs a solid experienced center-back to work with.

Sunderland can take encouragement from their performance at the Etihad. Despite rarely seeing the ball, Sunderland restricted the hosts’ chances and made openings for themselves, most notably the passage of play that led to the equalizer. David Moyes is well known for his defensive qualities and with a couple of more signings, we shouldn’t see them ship more careless goals that saw them almost relegated last season.

Sunderland host Middlesbrough on Sunday, 21 August while Manchester City travel to Romania on Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest, before facing Stoke on Saturday.


Bournemouth vs Manchester United

Score: 1-3

The Jose Mourinho era begun with an emphatic victory against the Cherries, with a convincing performance that was non-existent the last time United played this fixture last season. Juan Mata, who was substituted after coming on in last week’s Community Shield, opened the scoring with a tap-in after Simon Francis’ error. Wayne Rooney headed the second before Zlatan Ibrahimovic marked his United league debut with a goal from 25 yards.

Adam Smith scored a consolation goal for the Cherries.

Three of United’s four summer signings took their bows at the Vitality Stadium. Eric Bailly and Zlatan ibrahimovic impressed, while Henrikh Mhykitaryan came on in the final 15 minutes when the game was pretty much wrapped up.

There’s still work to be done by Eddie Howe, who despite making six major signings, still looks short of quality in some areas on the pitch; particularly in defense. Bournemouth conceded 67 goals last season – more than relegated Newcastle – and they needed Boruc at his best to keep United from a more handsome win. It could be curtains for the Cherries if this isn’t done in good time. For United, however, the only way is up.

Bournemouth travel to West Ham on Sunday, while United welcome Southampton at Old Trafford for the first Friday night fixture of the league.


Arsenal vs Liverpool

Score: 3-4

Liverpool came out on top in a seven goal thriller at the Emirates, a opening result that has become all too familiar among the Arsenal faithful. Goals from new signing Sadio Mane, Adam Lallana and a brace from Phillipe Coutinho were enough to outgun the Gunners, whose goals were from Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Callum Chambers.

While it’s clear that Arsenal’s concern is at the back, it really puzzles me as to why boss Arsene Wenger decided not to invest yet again. With injured senior defenders Per Mertesacker and Gabriel out for some time,and Laurent Koscielny is still not match fit after his exploits at Euro 2016, defensive signings should have been a priority this summer. The only high profile signing, Granit Xhaka, made a woeful debut, often mistiming his tackles.

Liverpool on the other hand could do with a lesson or two about wrapping up matches. From being 4-1 up to winning by a solitary goal, there’s still much Klopp needs to do with his defense as well as the squad’s match managing in such a huge clash. All credit for making it past the line, though.

Arsenal face Leicester next Saturday at the King Power Stadium while Liverpool are away again, this time at Burnley on the same day.


Chelsea vs West Ham

Score: 2-1

Diego Costa’s 89th minute strike handed Antonio Conte his first win in charge of the Blues as his side secured a season-opening victory over West Ham.Eden Hazard had put the Blues in front from the spot after Michail Antonio fouled César Azpilicueta. James Collins leveled for the Hammers, but Costa’s finish settled it.

Chelsea should’ve won this fixture more comfortably, considering they controlled all the possession and had six shots on target. N’golo Kante looked solid on his debut, and Hazard showed glimpses of his quality that we expect to grow with more time. New striker Michy Batshuayi had a decent cameo as well, providing the assist for the winner.

West Ham still have a few nails to hammer. I’m not fully convinced that Antonio should be playing in defense, while Enner Valencia had a game to forget, failing to influence the run of play from the beginning. Striker Ayew, a £20m signing from Swansea, had a miserable night as he limped off in the first half with a thigh injury and Payet had little time to make things happen. However, Bilic seems well aware of this and we should see changes ahead of the weekend.

Chelsea travel to Watford on Saturday while West Ham first travel to Romania for their Europa league qualifier against Astra Giurgiu before facing Bournemouth on Sunday.


 

 

 

 

Euro 2016: Preview

It’s finally here! Euro 2016 begins later tonight, with the hosts France kicking things off against Romania. Just like many people, you’d have to bring up a pretty good argument to convince me that France won’t win this come July 10th. Their squad depth is impressive and they’ve got a couple of very good players in Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet, just to name a few. Having been drawn with Romania, Albania and Switzerland, it’s hard seeing any upset as far as Didier Deschamp’s men are concerned.

The other giants in this tournament are Belgium, Germany and Spain (don’t ask me why England isn’t included. You already know). Even though my money is on the hosts, I wouldn’t be too surprised if any one of these sides came through and caused an upset. I’m a little bit concerned about Germany’s situation as yet another defender dropped out due to injury and that could be the cause of their undoing. They are looking a little bit light at the back. However, with Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland in their group, you’d expect them to ease past the group stages with little difficulty.

Despite also boasting of highly-rated players, I’m not too convinced about Belgium winning it either. Their squad looks okay but they don’t look like they’ve gelled as a unit. This was well evidenced in their friendlies. Some moments of individual moments could be the decisive key for them rather than intricate teamwork but at the end of the day if they do manage to win, nobody will care how they did it. 

Spain, on the other hand, seem to be suffering from a general lack of pressure. Don’t get me wrong. Spain have got the personnel to get the job done but the display they put up against Georgia makes me question their will to pick up a third consecutive European Championship crown. Yes, the match was incredibly one sided and Georgia sat deep, but that’s what a majority of teams at the tournament will do and Spain have to adapt and find ways to break them down otherwise it could be a quick goodbye at the Quarter-Final stage.

Finally, as you all know, every competition has a dark horse. For me, Croatia look the most likely to cause a major upset. They’ve got a lot of quality in that midfield with Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric all set and ready to go. They all play for ‘monster clubs’ in Spain and have got European pedigree and so it will be a matter of getting the balance right for the manager. Up front, they’ve got Mario Mandzukic who’s had a great campaign at Juventus and if he gets the supply he needs then there’s no reason for them not to go far in this tournament. Spain are the only opponents you’d really expect to give them a good fight in their group.


Note: I will not be covering the Euros as I’ll be incredibly caught up this summer. Work, school and travel schedules will make it impossible to keep track with everything that will be going on in France. However, Euro Blog and Real Football Man, two sites that I highly recommend for the quality and consistency of their material as well as their real-time updates will be there to take you through it all. They are fantastic blogs in my opinion so you can head over to their pages for everything Euro and football in general. Don’t forget to follow/subscribe/share them if you enjoy.

Also, there will be major changes to this blog as I’ll be looking to improve it before the new season begins in August. I will keep you all posted. Cheers!

ChezaFutaa! EPL End Of Season Awards

Before I sign off for the summer, it wouldn’t be right to leave without recognizing some of the heroes, zeroes, flops, clowns and incidents that made this campaign truly special to me. There’s plenty that don’t feature but these are the ones that really stood out. Without further ado, here are your winners:

Player of the Year: Riyad Mahrez

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Who else?

Manager of the Year: Claudio Ranieri

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Dilly-Ding, Dilly-Dong!

Goal of the Season: Cuco Martina v Arsenal

In all honesty, he should have been fined for even thinking about attempting this.


Match of the Season: Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham

This game had everything; goals, fights and cards in abundance. A thrilling, edge-of-the-seat encounter overall.


Signing of the Season: N’Golo Kante

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Whatever it is, Kante’s got you covered.

Flop of the Season: Eden Hazard

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In all fairness though, there’s not been a better magician in the league all season. Dissapearing for that long is an incredibly difficult task.

Dive of the Season: Louis Van Gaal

Never forget…


Young Player of the Season: Dele Alli

No competition here.


Groundsman of the Season: John Ledwidge

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Leicester City head groundsman John Ledwidge deserves a massive pay rise for his tremendous efforts.

 


Worst game of the Season: Aston Villa 0-0 Newcastle United

The most interesting thing is that Newcastle went on to beat Tottenham 5-1 in their final home game in the top flight. I can’t even.


There you have it! Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

Football in 2015/16: The Year That Was

The dust has settled. The curtains came down on what perhaps was the most thrilling and most unpredictable campaign in the most watched league in the world. Nobody was prepared for what transpired. Nobody. (Well..apart from that bloke that managed to swindle bookies with this punt).

Before we continue, I must apologize for ghosting every reader of this blog for about two weeks. The end of the season was immediately followed by my end of semester exams and so I found myself short of time to give my two thoughts on the end of the season, as well as the FA Cup, Europa League and Champions League finals as well. However, that’s all done and dusted now, at least temporarily, so let’s get started.

Premier League

For some time now, the Premier League has always boasted that it’s the most exciting league in the world. This year, it was no exception. Leicester’s incredible triumph meant that we’ve seen four different winners in the past four years, a fete that is mighty exceptional in comparison to all the other top 5 leagues in Europe. While Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG won consecutive back to back league titles, the perennial English bigwigs were in for a shock from a humble club from Leicester under the stewardship of one Claudio Ranieri. Everybody loves a fairy-tale underdog story and Leicester’s was celebrated by everybody, regardless of the club you support. (Unless you’re a Spurs fan, which is understandable).

On the flip side however, the traditionally bigger sides must ask themselves what really went wrong. Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal and Chelsea in particular fell short of expectations despite the stature of their clubs and the bumper finances at their disposal. Manchester United will be competing in the Europa League despite spending over £300m. Chelsea won’t be challenging for any European silverware despite being Premier League champions in 2014/15. Liverpool managed to get to the Europa league final but ultimately fell short and Manchester City sabotaged their own campaign by announcing a new manager in the middle of the season. It’s a lesson well learnt and I expect them to bounce back up come August.

Elsewhere, special mention goes out to West Ham, Southampton, Stoke City , Watford and Bournemouth for their performances throughout the season. The latter two were impressive after coming from the Championship and showed great character to ensure another season in the top-flight. Both clubs must strengthen their squads in the summer as it won’t be a walk in the park next season. It never is.

2015/16 was a good year for the Saints, and in particular, Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman has managed to bring European football to St. Mary’s Stadium as well as bring out the very best of some real gems in that squad. Victor Wanyama, Sadio Mane and Fraser Forster particularly impressed. As is the norm, however, Southampton are now in their most dreaded period of the year. They face a real battle to keep their best talents at the club, and this year in particular the biggest has to be their manager. He is the biggest signing they need to make this season, amidst serious interest from Everton.

West Ham were the other overachievers of the season. It all begun with a win over Arsenal on opening day, and from there things just got better and better for them. The acquisition of Dimitri Payet rejuvenated the West Ham squad and turned it into a set piece powerhouse. If you recall, it was a set piece that sealed victory against Manchester United in their final home game at Upton Park. A befitting end to an extraordinary campaign. Obviously, there’s still more to be done to ensure their style remains exciting and effective. The Hammers are already hunting for a star striker and under Slaven Bilic’s leadership, I trust they’ll only reach further. They stumbled in their race for Champions League football and an FA Cup trophy but it was a successful season overall.

Commiserations to Newcastle, Norwich and Aston Villa after being relegated but in all honesty, they just weren’t good enough. With Aston Villa’s captain picking up  ore suspensions than goals, Norwich dropping precious points game after game, and Newcastle realizing they’re in a relegation battle with only 3 games to go it was probably justified that they went down. Big changes needed in Norwich and Aston Villa’s squads in particular, with many players too old and past their prime. Newcastle are under very good hands and should be coming back in the soonest time possible. Rafa’s commitment to stay will have a positive effect on the club.

FA Cup Final

Manchester United lifted the FA Cup trophy as consolation for a horrible time under Louis Van Gaal. It was a nice feeling after suffering more failed signings, money wasted, anaemic, risk-averse football that betrays the club’s traditions, a lack of cutting edge and too many meek players.

The real winner was Jesse Lingard. He, together with Marcus Rashford, are living the dream of every Manchester United supporter. It doesn’t get any better than scoring the decisive goal in a final.

It wasn’t a great match and the trophy could’ve gone either way. Pardew’s little dance mid-game confirmed this. There’s been better finals in the past, I must say.

Europa League Final

A game of two halves. After the first period, it seemed that Liverpool would blitz Sevilla away come full time but the masters of the Europa League had other ideas in mind. A double from Coke sank Klopp’s army after enjoying such a remarkable run that saw Istanbul repeated all over at Anfield when Liverpool triumphed over Borussia Dortmund.

Liverpool left with dissapointment, but deep down they knew it was the right result. Klopp has done more this this squad than many expected to and one can only think that Liverpool will be challenging once again if he gets the signings that he needs. Besides, many would’ve said that Liverpool would have been incredibly lucky to finish 8th and have a Champions League spot next season but in all fairness, Sevilla finished just one position above the Reds in their league so that argument doesn’t hold any weight.

Meanwhile, Sevilla have a curious case in their hands. I’m not too sure whether winning multiple Europa League trophies counts as a success or a lack of progress, but that’s a story for another day.

Champions League Final

This match had everything I had hoped for, except for Atletico lifting the trophy at the end of it all.  With two local rivals that had to fight for their place in the final, it was inevitably going to be a tight and cagey affair. Real’s experience won it for them in the end, and deservedly so. Atletico put up a brave fight, and if they can match the ambitions of their manager, who sees failing in two finals as a disaster, then it’s only a matter of time before they get their hands on the trophy unlike some other club I know that’s always content with Champions League qualification year after year.

Congratulations to Zidane for lifting a very prestigious trophy in less than six months in charge, joining an illustrious group of people that have won it both as a player and as a coach. The real task (no pun intended) will come next season, however, as the eternal thirst for silverware at the Bernabau will be well alive and at his back, as well as persistent inquiries from the footballing world as to why Pepe is such a big d*ck.


 

FA Cup Final: Crystal Palace vs Manchester United

LAST MEETING

April 20, 2016 (Old Trafford): Man Utd 2-0 Crystal Palace

KEY STATS

  • These sides met in the 1990 FA Cup final- Crytsal Palace’s only FA Cup final to date- United won 1-0 after a replay following a 3-3 draw. Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew played in both of those games for the Eagles
  • United have reached their first FA Cup final since 2007, and 19th overall. Only Arsenal have (12) have won the trophy more times than the Red Devils
  • Crystal Palace have never beaten Man United in the FA Cup (D2 L2)
  • This will be Man Utd’s 14th game at the new Wembley Stadium- no team has played more games there (Chelsea also 14)
  • Palace have won six of their last seven FA Cup ties against fellow PL sides (L1)

TEAM NEWS

Joe Ledley will be unavailable for the Eagles while Wilfried Zaha is expected to return to the starting lineup against his former club.

Marcos Rojo, Matteo Darmian and Marouane Fellaini all return for the Red Devils and are available for selection, with only Luke Shaw and Bastian Schweinsteiger ruled out.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Crytsal Palace XI: Hennessey; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souare; Cabaye, McArthur, Puncheon; Bolasie, Wickham, Zaha

Man United XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson; Carrick, Rooney; Martial, Mata, Lingard; Rashford

Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-3 Man Utd


 

#WeekendPreview: Matchday 38

ARSENAL VS ASTON VILLA

LAST MEETING

December 13, 2015 (Villa Park): Aston Villa 0-2 Arsenal

FORM

Arsenal: DWDWD

Aston Villa: LLLLD

KEY STATS

  • Aston Villa have lost nine of their last 11 meetings with Arsenal in all competitions (W1 D1)
  • Arsenal have scored 14 goals without reply in the last four matches against Villa across all competitions
  • Olivier Giroud has scored in each of his last five appearances against Aston Villa
  • Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 10 matches on the final day of the Barclays Premier League season (W8 D2). The last team to beat them on the final day was Birmingham City in 2005
  • Aston Villa have scored just seven goals in their last 14 Premier League road trips

TEAM NEWS

Jack Wilshere is ready to start against Aston Villa on Sunday according Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (knee) will miss out, but Mesut Ozil (thigh) is back in training and Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini could be in contention for a final appearance in Arsenal colours.

The match is likely to provide a last outing for numerous Villa players, with the club seeking a fresh start in the Championship next term.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Arsenal XI: Cech; Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Elneny, Ramsey; Sanchez, Iwobi, Walcott; Giroud

Aston Villa XI: Bunn; Bacuna, Lescott, Clark; Hutton, Westwood, Sanchez, Gueye, Toner; Ayew, Sinclair

PREDICTION: Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa


CHELSEA VS LEICESTER CITY

LAST MEETING

December 14, 2015 (King Power Stadium): Leicester 2-1 Chelsea

FORM

Chelsea: LWDLD

Leicester: WDWDW

KEY STATS

  • Chelsea had won six straight Barclays Premier League matches against Leicester City before the Foxes’ 2-1 victory back in December
  • Leicester have lost just two of their last 21 league away matches (W13 D6 L2)
  • Claudio Ranieri can register his 100th BPL win in this match (W99 D48 L36), thus becoming the 18th manager to hit that milestone in the competition
  • If Wes Morgan plays the full 90 minutes in this match he will become the third outfield player to play every minute of a BPL title-winning season (after Gary Pallister in 1992/93 and John Terry in 2014/15)
  • Chelsea have played at home on the final day more than any other team in Premier League history (15 times W11 D2 L2)

TEAM NEWS

Ranieri will welcome back Danny Drinkwater from suspension, while fellow England international Jamie Vardy will be available to play despite his manager confirming he must undergo wrist surgery.

John Terry is suspended following his red card at Sunderland. Diego Costa is sidelined with a hamstring injury and the striker now faces a race to be in contention for Spain’s Euro 2016 squad.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Chelsea XI: Begovic; Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Rahman; Fabregas, Matic; Willian, Hazard, Pedro; Traore

Leicester XI: Schmeichel; Simpson, Wasilewski, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, Kanté, Drinkwater, Albrighton; Okazaki, Vardy

Prediction: Chelsea 2-2 Leicester


EVERTON VS NORWICH

LAST MEETING

December 12, 2015 (Carrow Road): Norwich 1-1 Everton

FORM

Everton: DLWLL

Norwich: LLLLW

KEY STATS

  • Six of the last eight meetings between Everton and Norwich City in all competitions have ended as draws
  • Norwich have won just one of the last 11 Barclays Premier League meetings against Everton (W1 D6 L4)
  • The Canaries’ last win at Goodison Park, in 1993, saw Efan Ekoku become the first player to score four goals in a BPL match as they won 5-1
  • Everton midfielder Gareth Barry has made more starts in the competition than any other player, 572, one more than David James
  • Norwich have now been relegated from the Premier League a joint-high four times, level with Crystal Palace

TEAM NEWS

Phil Jagielka (hamstring) could be back having returned to training and Seamus Coleman (hamstring) will be subject to a late fitness test, while Norwich have no fresh injuries. 

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Everton XI: Joel; Pennington, Stones, Funes Mori, Baines; Barry, McCarthy; Cleverley, Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku

Norwich XI: Ruddy; Pinto, Bennett, Martin, Olsson; O’Neil, Dorrans; Redmond, Naismith, Hoolahan; Mbokani 

Prediction: Everton 3-1 Norwich


MANCHESTER UNITED VS AFC BOURNEMOUTH

LAST MEETING

December 12, 2015 (Goldsands Stadium): Bournemouth 2-1 Man Utd

FORM

Man Utd: WWDWL

Bournemouth: WLLLD

KEY STATS

  • Manchester United have conceded fewer goals than any other team in the Barclays Premier League on home soil this season (eight)
  • AFC Bournemouth have lost just three of their last 12 league away matches (W5 D4 L3)
  • The Red Devils have taken 19 points from a possible 21 in their last seven top-flight home fixtures
  • AFC Bournemouth have visited Old Trafford four times in all competitions, losing all four without scoring
  • Manchester United have won just 18 league games this season; if they don’t beat Bournemouth, they’ll set a new club record for fewest wins in a full Premier League season (current record is 19 in 13/14)

TEAM NEWS

Bastian Schweinsteiger remains unavailable, while Luke Shaw will not make his comeback from a broken leg suffered in September this season and Marouane Fellaini remains suspended.

Bournemouth will be without Sylvain Distin (back) and Adam Smith (hernia).

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Man Utd XI: De Gea; Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo; Carrick, Rooney; Mata, Lingard, Martial; Rashford

Bournemouth XI: Boruc; Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels; Gradel, Arter, Surman, Ritchie; King, Afobe

Prediction: Man Utd 3-1 Bournemouth


NEWCASTLE VS TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

LAST MEETING

December 13, 2015 (White Hart Lane): Spurs 1-2 Newcastle

FORM

Newcastle: WDDWD

Spurs: WWDDL

KEY STATS

  • Newcastle United have lost just one of their last eight Barclays Premier League matches at St James Park (W4 D3)
  • The Magpies have won one of their last five league home fixtures against Tottenham Hotspur (W1 D2 L2)
  • Newcastle have kept just one clean sheet in their last 22 BPL meetings with Spurs
  • If Spurs win this fixture, they will beat their highest ever points tally in a single season set in 2012/13 (72)
  • Rafa Benitez’s side are unbeaten in five in the Premier League, their best run since November 2014 (six matches unbeaten)

TEAM NEWS

 Rafael Benitez could start defender Daryl Janmaat (hand) after he was an unused substitute against Villa, while Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele are suspended for Spurs. Nabil Bentaleb (knee) is still out.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Newcastle XI: Darlow; Dummett, Mbemba, Lascelles, Anita; Tiote, Colback; Townsend, Wijnaldum, Sissoko; Cisse

Spurs XI: Lloris; Walker, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Rose; Mason, Dier; Lamela, Eriksen, Son; Kane

Prediction: Newcastle 1-2 Spurs


SOUTHAMPTON VS CRYSTAL PALACE

LAST MEETING

January 9, 2016 (St Mary’s Stadium): Southampton 1-2 Crystal Palace

FORM

Southampton: WDWWW

Crystal Palace: DDLLW

KEY STATS

  • Crystal Palace’s 1-0 win earlier this season was their first in the Barclays Premier League against Southampton, having lost eight and drawn four of the previous 12 meetings
  • Palace have won none of their last 10 BPL matches on the road (D5 L5)
  • Southampton have won seven and lost one of their last nine top-flight matches at St Mary’s Stadium
  • Yohan Cabaye has scored in both of his league appearances against Southampton
  • Only West Ham have scored more headed goals in the top-flight than Southampton

TEAM NEWS

Southampton’s only absentee is midfielder Jordy Clasie (groin).

Crystal Palace will be without Joe Ledley (fibula) and Wilfried Zaha (muscular injury).

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Southampton XI: Forster; Martina, Fonte, van Dijk, Bertrand; Wanyama, Romeu; Mane, Davis, Tadic; Long

Crystal Palace XI: Hennessey; Ward, Dann, Delaney, Souaré; Puncheon, McArthur, Cabaye, Bolasie; Gayle, Wickham

Prediction: Southampton 3-2 Crystal Palace


STOKE VS WEST HAM UNITED

LAST MEETING

December 12, 2015 (Britannia Stadium): Stoke 0-0 West Ham

FORM

Stoke: LLLDL

West Ham: DWWLW

KEY STATS

  • Stoke City are unbeaten in their last five Barclays Premier League matches against West Ham United (W2 D3)
  • Stoke have won none of their last four BPL matches at the Britannia Stadium (D2 L2). Not beating West Ham would see them equal their longest run without a home win in the competition (five matches in September 2012)
  • West Ham are unbeaten in their last five league away trips (W2 D3), scoring at least two goals in each of those matches
  • West Ham will finish the season with a positive goal difference (currently +15) for the first time in a top-flight campaign since 1985/86
  • The Potters have kept just one clean sheet in their last 15 Premier League games

TEAM NEWS

Bilic’s only injury concern is Adrian, who is unlikely to return in place of Darren Randolph due to a calf strain.

A broken leg sustained in training saw Stephen Ireland add to Hughes’ lengthy injury list, but Shay Given and Glen Johnson could make comebacks on Sunday.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Stoke XI: Given; Bardsley, Shawcross, Cameron, Pieters; Whelan, Imbula; Shaqiri, Adam, Arnautovic; Crouch

West Ham XI: Randolph; Antonio, Reid, Ogbonna, Cresswell; Lanzini, Kouyaté, Noble, Payet; Sakho, Carroll

Prediction: Stoke 1-0 West Ham


SWANSEA VS MANCHESTER CITY

LAST MEETING

December 12, 2015 (Etihad Stadium): Man City 2-1 Swansea

FORM

Swansea: WLLWW

Man City: WDWLD

KEY STATS

  • Wilfried Bony has scored in both of his Barclays Premier League matches against former club Swansea City, and netted three goals in his last two appearances for the Swans against Man City before that
  • Manchester City have won six and lost none of the last seven BPL meetings with Swansea
  • Yaya Toure has scored four goals in his last four league appearances against Swansea
  • The Swans have won their last four BPL home matches, their best run of home results in the history of the competition
  • Sergio Aguero has scored in six Premier League games in a row, his longest ever run in the competition

TEAM NEWS

City remain without captain Vincent Kompany (thigh), fellow defender Pablo Zabaleta (calf) and playmaker David Silva (hamstring), while Aleksandar Kolarov (muscular) and Samir Nasri (illness) will be assessed.

Swansea goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski will join team-mates Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Gylfi Sigurdsson in resting up ahead of Euro 2016 commitments, meaning a likely Barclays Premier League debut for Kristoffer Nordfeldt.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Swansea XI: Nordfeldt; Naughton, Fernandez, Amat, Kingsley; Fer, Cork, Britton; Barrow, Ayew, Routledge

Man City XI: Hart; Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy; Fernandinho, Fernando; Navas, Toure, De Bruyne; Aguero

Prediction: Swansea 2-2 Man City


WATFORD VS SUNDERLAND

LAST MEETING

December 12, 2015 (Stadium of Light): Sunderland 0-1 Watford

FORM

Watford: WLWLL

Sunderland: WDDWW

KEY STATS

  • Watford’s win over Sunderland earlier this season ended a run of six league matches without a win over the Black Cats (D2 L4)
  • Sunderland have won just one of their last seven Barclays Premier League away matches (W1 D4 L2)
  • Only one team (West Ham United) have stopped Sunderland from scoring in their last 13 top-flight away trips
  • Sunderland have won one and lost 11 of their 14 final day fixtures in the competition (D2)
  • A league-low eight different players have scored for Watford in the top-flight this season

TEAM NEWS

Valon Behrami (rib) and Etienne Capoue (knee) are set to miss out for the hosts while George Honeyman, Thomas Robson and Rees Greenwood are among the youngsters set to be involved for the visitors who did not pick up any fresh injuries during their vital midweek win over Everton.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Watford XI: Gomes; Nyom, Cathcart, Britos, Anya; Abdi, Suarez, Watson, Jurado; Ighalo, Deeney    

Sunderland XI: Mannone: van Aanholt, Kone, O’Shea, Yedlin; Khazri, M’Vila, Robson, Borini; Defoe

Prediction: Watford 1-1 Sunderland


WEST BROMWICH ALBION VS LIVERPOOL

LAST MEETING

December 13, 2015 (Anfield): Liverpool 2-2 West Brom

FORM

West Brom: LLDLD

Liverpool: WDLWD

KEY STATS

  • Liverpool have lost none of the last five Barclays Premier League matches against West Bromwich Albion (W2 D3)
  • Daniel Sturridge has scored in both of his league appearances for Liverpool against West Bro
  • Liverpool have lost each of their last three final day fixtures in the BPL that have been away from Anfield (2011, 2012 and 2015)
  • West Brom have won just one of their nine final-day matches in the competition (W1 D5 L3)

TEAM NEWS

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp revealed that Danny Ings could make a return to the squad after missing seven months with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, while Jordan Henderson (knee) and Divock Origi (ankle) are getting closer to a comeback, but are not expected to be back prior to the Europa League final.

West Brom will check on Darren Fletcher (ankle), Jonny Evans (groin), Stephane Sessegnon (illness) and Adam Pritchard (thigh) ahead of the game.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

West Brom XI: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Olsson; Fletcher, Yacob; Sessegnon, Gardner, McClean; Rondon

Liverpool XI: Ward; Flanagan, Skrtel, Lucas, Smith; Allen, Stewart; Ibe, Ojo, Firmino; Benteke

Prediction: West Brom 3-1 Liverpool


 

Sunderland vs Everton: Preview

LAST MEETING

November 1, 2015 (Goodison Park): Everton 6-2 Sunderland

FORM

Sunderland: LWDDW

Everton: DDLWL

KEY STATS

  • Sunderland have won just one of their last 10 Barclays Premier League home matches against Everton (W1 D4 L5)
  • Jermain Defoe netted just three goals in 17 league outings against Everton before joining Sunderland, but has scored in both of his matches for the Black Cats versus the Toffees
  • Two of the five occasions Everton has scored six goals or more in a BPL match have come against Sunderland (7-1 in November 2007 and 6-2 in November 2015)
  • Sunderland have lost just one of their last nine league matches, winning two and drawing six
  • The Toffees have registered just one win in their last nine top-flight games, drawing three and losing five

TEAM NEWS

Lamine Kone (thigh) is fit for Sunderland, meaning Billy Jones (hip) is their only absentee.

Everton are expected to be without Gerard Deulofeu (knee) and Phil Jagielka (hamstring), while they will check on Gareth Barry (groin) and Seamus Coleman (hamstring) ahead of kick-off.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

Sunderland XI: Mannone; Yedlin, Kaboul, Kone, Van Aanholt; Kirchhoff, Cattermole, M’Vila, Borini, Khazri; Defoe

Everton XI: Robles; Oviedo, Pennington, Stones, Baines; McCarthy, Cleverley, Lennon, Barkley, Mirallas; Lukaku

Prediction: Sunderland 2-1 Everton